Microphone Impedance

When dealing with microphones, one consideration which is often misunderstood or overlooked is the microphone's impedance rating. Perhaps this is because impedance isn't a "critical" factor; that is, microphones will still continue to operate whether or not the best impedance rating is used. However, in order to ensure the best quality and most reliable audio, attention should be paid to getting this factor right.

If you want the short answer, here it is: Low impedance is better than high impedance.

If you're interested in understanding more, read on....

What is Impedance?

Impedance is an electronics term which measures the amount of opposition a device has to an AC current (such as an audio signal). Technically speaking, it is the combined effect of capacitance, inductance, and resistance on a signal. The letter Z is often used as shorthand for the word impedance, e.g. Hi-Z or Low-Z.

Impedance is measured in ohms, shown with the Greek Omega symbol Ω. A microphone with the specification 600Ω has an impedance of 600 ohms.

What is Microphone Impedance?

All microphones have a specification referring to their impedance. This spec may be written on the mic itself (perhaps alongside the directional pattern), or you may need to consult the manual or manufacturer's website.

You will often find that mics with a hard-wired cable and 1/4" plug are high impedance, and mics with separate balanced audio cable and XLR connector are low impedance.

There are three general classifications for microphone impedance. Different manufacturers use slightly different guidelines but the classifications are roughly:

  1. Low Impedance (less than 600Ω)
  2. Medium Impedance (600Ω - 10,000Ω)
  3. High Impedance (greater than 10,000Ω)

Note that some microphones have the ability to select from different impedance ratings.

Which Impedance to Choose?

High impedance microphones are usually quite cheap. Their main disadvantage is that they do not perform well over long distance cables - after about 5 or 10 metres they begin producing poor quality audio (in particular a loss of high frequencies). In any case these mics are not a good choice for serious work. In fact, although not completely reliable, one of the clues to a microphone's overall quality is the impedance rating.

Low impedance microphones are usually the preferred choice.

Matching Impedance with Other Equipment

Microphones aren't the only things with impedance. Other equipment, such as the input of a sound mixer, also has an ohms rating. Again, you may need to consult the appropriate manual or website to find these values. Be aware that what one system calls "low impedance" may not be the same as your low impedance microphone - you really need to see the ohms value to know exactly what you're dealing with.

A low impedance microphone should generally be connected to an input with the same or higher impedance. If a microphone is connected to an input with lower impedance, there will be a loss of signal strength.

In some cases you can use a line matching transformer, which will convert a signal to a different impedance for matching to other components.

Next Page: Microphone Frequency Response

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